OMA modifies and expands cai guo-qiang’s new york headquarters
all images by brett beyer / courtesy of OMA




known for his flaming sky ladder and collection of 99 sculptural animals, chinese contemporary artist cai guo-qiang has recently had his downtown new york studio renovated by renowned architecture firm OMA. set inside a traditional brownstone building, the design team — led by shohei shigematsu — spatially reorganized the studio around a central courtyard, referencing traditional chinese building layouts. the former schoolhouse was originally constructed in 1885, and currently serves as cai’s personal headquarters for both exhibitions and receptions.

the former schoolhouse building serves as cai guo-qiang’s personal headquarters




OMA’s response carefully intertwines existing details with contemporary materials. many historical elements belonging to the school have been kept. these include the red door, which continues to serve as the main entry, the structure’s original brick and stone masonry, and existing iron stair railings and treads. these components now sit alongside materials such as translucent resin and wood, which emphasize the character of the historic building within the updated space.

the structure’s original brick and stone masonry has been preserved




the double height expanse of the exposed brick wall provides additional display space for cai’s artwork, complementing the dedicated exhibition areas. the two main galleries, the west and east ateliers, are both fully accessible from the courtyard, and are enhanced by natural light.

two ateliers are fully accessible from the courtyard




vertical and horizontal connections between the studio and its context and within the building itself are created through a few key interventions,’ comments OMA. ‘the original, wedge-shaped courtyard is extended to the street front, defining a new, larger courtyard that spans the full extent of the site. this expansion creates a literal and conceptual extension of the neighborhood’s urban fabric to the interior programs.’

a constant relationship has been established between inside and outside space




the scheme features a resin wall that spans both levels along the courtyard edge, acting as a central spine distributing natural light. this system is constructed with integrated lighting and mechanical infrastructure, incorporating storage, display, and work space at various points along its length. as well as distributing light horizontally and vertically, glass panels optimize the distribution of light and air.

the atelier features a translucent resin wall




‘a series of distinct vertical connections from the street level illuminate the cellar level below,’ commented lead designer, shohei shigematsu. natural light from the courtyard filters down through a series of light wells composed of walkable glass panels and a reflective bamboo vault. inside, a central stairwell provides circulation to the lower level, as well as a double-height display space. an existing structural vault was repurposed as a periscope, offering views to the street via a mirrored desk in the library.’

individual details have been restored and incorporated




rooms have been furnished and added in order to adapt to an array of functions, such as meetings and events. more intimate and private spaces which reference eastern philosophies have also been incorporated. a tea room featuring tatami mats is oriented so that guests face the outdoors — towards the diffused silhouette of the bamboo planting within the courtyard. this further strengthens the importance of linking the programmatic relationship to both nature and landscape.

the stairway includes original iron stair railings and treads

the cellar below ground level

an existing structural vault has been repurposed as a periscope, offering views to the street

the library with artist cai guo-qiang sketching

the tea room features tatami mats oriented so that guests face the outdoors

bamboo planting within the courtyard

the studio is housed inside a former new york schoolhouse

exploded axonometric showing the studio’s layout




project info:


architects: OMA
partner-in-charge: shohei shigematsu
project architect: scott abrahams
team: ted lin, lawrence siu, ian mills, matthew austin, hanying zhang, nick demers-stoddart, cass nakashima, sean billy kizy


executive architect: shiming tam architect PC
structural engineer: robert silman associates PC
MEP engineer: plus group consulting engineering PLLC
lighting consultant: tillotson design associates/ dot dash
contractor: P&P interior inc.